Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Randy
People may have gained health benefits from wild greens as long as 200,000 years ago. Today, greens are considered one of the healthiest vegetables, and they’re inexpensive. Organic greens may be healthier than non-organic greens due to their defensive response to getting bitten by bugs.
The calcium in dark green leafy vegetables is more effectively absorbed by the body than that found in cow’s milk. Potassium from greens may be anti-inflammatory and may prevent strokes and heart disease. Greens can also provide iron and zinc, antioxidants, and magnesium, a nutrient that may lower the risk of a range of health concerns including diabetes, heart disease, and sudden cardiac death. Green leafy vegetables are the best source of plant-based nitrates. Nitrates from a plant-based diet are not considered harmful. In fact, nitric oxide formed from plant-based nitrate may play a role in the prevention of heart disease and high blood pressure. Eating whole plant foods is likely better for your health than taking supplements. For example, folate, which can reduce the risk of depression, in greens appears preferable to folic acid supplements. Many nutrients found in greens are fat soluble, which means including some healthy whole food fats like nuts or seeds, in a meal can help you better absorb the phytonutrients. Plant-based diets, including greens, tend to be alkaline-forming, which may help protect muscle mass and reduce the risk of gout and kidney stones. High consumption in particular of green leafy and cruciferous vegetables may be linked to lower rates of cognitive decline. Greens can be an important part of a plant-based diet that could reduce risk for cardiac disease and heart attack. Some nutrients are destroyed by cooking, but some nutrients become more absorbable. So, a mix of cooked and raw vegetables, including greens, may be best. Smoothies may also be a great source to get all of the nutrients greens have to offer. Although make sure to drink whole food smoothies (not made from juice), and it may be better to use a straw to prevent enamel erosion.
Consuming at least one serving a month of greens appears to reduce the risk of glaucoma by 69%. Lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients found greens, also appear to be protective against cataracts and macular degeneration. Greens consumption is also associated with increased physical attractiveness, reduced facial wrinkling, improved dental health, better immune system, and may reduce free radical DNA damage.
Two or more daily servings of greens may help clear the human papilloma virus, which can cause cancer. Eating green leafy vegetables may also reduce risk for breast cancer, kidney cancer, and lymphoma, and overall cancer risk. Adding mustard powder o cooked greens can boost sulforaphane levels to help protect against cancer.
Overall, most people in the U.S. fall short in meeting guidelines set by the USDA. For example, nine out of ten Americans could not meet the recommended minimum for vegetables (nine servings a day), including dark green vegetables.
Note: If you’re eating cups a day (as everyone should!) of dark green leafy vegetables Dr. Greger recommends sticking to low-oxalate greens (i.e. basically any greens other than spinach, swiss chard, and beet greens).
Image Credit: Svetl / Thinkstock. This image has been modified.
Popular Videos for Greens
All Videos for Greens
Best Brain Foods: Greens & Beets Put to the Test
Cocoa and nitrite-rich vegetables, such as green leafies and beets, are put to the test for cognitive function.
Best Brain Foods: Berries & Nuts Put to the Test
Randomized controlled studies put nuts, berries, and grape juice to the test for cognitive function.
Are There Benefits of Energy Drinks?
The effects of Red Bull and Monster brand energy drinks on artery function and athletic performance.
Benefits of a Macrobiotic Diet for Diabetes
What happens when you add massive amounts of carbs to the daily diet of type 2 diabetics in the form of whole grains?
Pros and Cons of a Macrobiotic Diet
What happens when you put diabetics on a diet composed of largely whole grains, vegetables, and beans?
Ground Ginger to Reduce Muscle Pain
There’s been at least 8 randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials of ginger for pain.
Benefits of Cabbage Leaves on the Knee for Osteoarthritis
Unbelievably, a randomized controlled trial of cabbage leaf wraps for arthritis was published.
Foods to Improve Athletic Performance & Recovery
The effects of spinach and berries on oxidative stress, inflammation, and muscle soreness in athletes.
Prescription: Nutrition Episode 3 – Spilling the Beans
I team up with chef Rich Landau and public health nutritionist Tracye McQuirter to discuss the health benefits and preparation of beans.
The Benefits of Kale & Cabbage for Cholesterol
Dinosaur kale and red cabbage are put to the test.
Are Avocados Good for You?
The nutritional benefits of guacamole extend beyond just the nutrients avocados themselves contain.
Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen Checklist
In my book How Not to Die I center my recommendations around a Daily Dozen checklist of all the things I try to fit into my daily routine.